What's Up Stage - Alan Rickman: Rickman is the Master in "Seminar"

Four ducks in a gallery, and Alan Rickman takes aim as they bobble round in the waters of a writer's workshop. Well, not even a proper workshop, where you sit in uncomfortable chairs surrounded by university walls, but a "private seminar" in an upscale Upper West Side annexed New York apartment with a bit of a view. That the rent for the place garners laughs is a two-fold tip-off: one, this play is attuned to New York sensibilities, and two, this play will be full of situation comedy.

Drama is hard, comedy is harder. I'm paraphrasing, and everyone has heard this before, but by golly, it's true. For me, the best kind of comedy has to do with characters - with their foibles, their flaws, their rationalizations. Light is okay, darker is better. And when real drama arises out of the clash of human desires, weaknesses and dreams, well then we've got ourselves a top notch play.

Teresa Rebeck's writing sometimes dances right up to each ensembler's inner truths, but she doesn't get past each character's type. The play's running time is short--but a richer piece would have plenty of time to develop these writers into more fully formed people. I felt like they had more to say as characters and as people than Ms. Rebeck would allow. That she was aiming for this kind of fast word interplay is abundantly clear. That she had to sacrifice a deeper understanding of any of the ideas in the play (what would those be?) or how these people might shed some light on them is far less clear.

Leonard (Alan Rickman) the leader of the pack appears joyless as he slings the arrows, you get the feeling his heart's not even in the verbal assaults. Getting a paycheck and a little on the side has worn away much of what must have been humanity way back when. You can't like this man, even though you can laugh at his savagery and none-too-delicate criticisms. Rickman gives them pointers which they can't hope to follow, and, perhaps, this is part of what he's trying to tell them: they are wasting their money. The truth is (and anyone who leads with "the truth is" is already suspect): You write, and you write some more. Because you have to. And you keep at it. Ready, class?

Martin (Hamish Linklater) has something of an arc, well, I'm not sure it's an arc, it's more like a game of hide and seek from himself, and from others. Rebeck was most generous with this character, and although the final scenes do not ring true, there is at least a suggestion of a future fruition, of sorts. Yes, it's that sort of play, where you aren't going to really go places, and certainly not deeply, but amusement does ensue if you like the breezy one-liners.

Kate (Lily Rabe) looks at ease doing physical comedy and owning the stage. Izzy (Hettienne Park) is even more at ease with whatever she needs to do, and if you're sitting very close to the stage, you will know what I mean. Douglass (Jerry O'Connell) suffers the most from being so one-note in his persona--it's not his fault, and the actor does the best he can in a role which is too flimsy for anyone to make into three dimensions. Rickman spoke of agreeing to do the play because of the writing. Yes, there are comebackers, and lots of colourful language. And many theatregoers will be sniggering at hearing the reigning Potions Master let loose. But I was hoping for Shakespeare wrapped in a Snickers bar.

There was one point where the play rose to the occasion. Leonard declares that he "has no skin". This was a taste of what could have been delivered at the Golden Theatre. However, in spite of the shortcomings of the play itself, the evening itself was electric watching Rickman go at it. If it seems like a long time since Alan Rickman catwalked the stage, then you haven't been paying attention. The New York winter is like balmy Maui compared to the freezing environs of John Gabriel Borkman, wherein Mr. Rickman last inhabited. In that instance however, he did not have a bona fide cold.

This go round, he did. Was he enjoying the show? "I'll be happier once I"m past this cold." His greeting at the stage door was warm, but the night was a bone chiller. I thanked him for doing the show. "Thank you for coming."

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